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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

4                               THE GAY GENIUS

Tungpo's life than of other Chinese poets. The material exists in
various historical records of a long and colourful political career, in his
own voluminous writings, both poetry and prose (close to a million
words), in his journals, autograph notes, and private letters, and in the
tremendous gossip about him as the most loved and admired scholar
of his times, which has come down to this day in the form of journals
and memoirs by his contemporaries. For a century after his death,
there was not an important book of memoirs which did not have some-
thing to say about the poet. The Sung scholars were great keepers of
diaries, notably Szema Kuang, Wang Anshih, Liu Chih, and Tseng
Pu; or indefatigable writers of memoirs, like Wang Mingching and
Shao Powen. Owing to the imbroglio over Wang Anshih's state
capitalism and the heat and excitement of the political battles that
extended through Su Tungpo's lifetime, the writers preserved the
material for the period, including dialogues,* m more than usual
abundance. Su Tungpo himself kept no diary; he was not the diary-
keeping type—it would have been, for him, too methodical, too self-
conscious. But he kept a journal, which was a collection of dated and
undated items on particular trips, thoughts, men, places, and events.
Other people were busy keeping memoirs of what he said and did. His
letters and his postscripts were carefully preserved by his admirers. As
a first-rate calligraphist very much sought after, he had the habit of
writing a poem on the spot or of recording a thought or a comment
and giving it away to a friend after a wine dinner. Such brief notes
were carefully preserved and handed down to the friend's grand-
children, or, in some cases, parted with for a very handsome sum of
money. These casual notes contain admittedly sofne of Su's best writings.
Some eight hundred of his letters and six hundred of his famous
autograph notes and postscripts are preserved today. In fact, it was Su's
popularity that started the fashion of collecting the postscripts and
casual notes of'other scholars after him, like Huang Tingchien, and
publishing them in a volume. There was an art collector of Chengtu
who, soon after his death, began to collect any autograph notes and
intimate letters of Su Tungpo, inscribed them on stone, and sold rub-
bings from them as calligraphy.f The poem Su Tungpo wrote on a
certain occasion was immediately circularised and repeated by heart
among the scholars of the land. Innocent and honest, such poems of
protest against the government's doings, at a time when all good
scholars were hounded out of the capital, concentrated on him alone
the fury of the ruling regime and almost cost him his life. Did he
repent ? Outwardly, in his banishment, to his less intimate friends he

* The dialogues^injhis book are^based^oif actual jrecords,   See*Bibliography,
Section i.

f The Western Tower Scripts, in. thirty volumes.   See page 243,